Breakup Hygiene, Part II: The Anger Addiction
Written by: Melissa DaSilva LICSW
The unthinkable has become real: you’ve broken up. The ugliness and stress have dragged on for weeks, maybe months. Civil communication is rare. Even non-verbal communications are toxic: obligations are unfulfilled, promises are broken. You both seethe with anger.
Anger is potent. Working to help children understand strong emotions, I often use the Anger Umbrella, a picture of an open umbrella covering difficult emotions like Fear, Sadness, Rejection. It’s the rare child who doesn’t quickly blurt out her own “anger backstory”: I did worse than anyone on the test (shame)… I didn’t get invited to Tom’s party (hurt)… My Dad didn’t want me to get a dog and that’s why he left (guilt).*
The thing is, anger feels better than shame, hurt, or guilt. Like toddlers screaming in the supermarket, slamming doors and shouting insults gives vent to our poor, battered egos. During a breakup, when we’re flooded by fatigue, depression, and hopelessness. anger can give us a temporary surge of power and energy. But as that adrenalin drains away, anger leaves us more fatigued, depressed, and helpless than ever. Anger may become an addiction as we seek that momentary sense of invincibility to avoid sadness and fear.
To cure an addiction to anger, replace it with forgiveness. Start by forgiving yourself for feeling hurt that your Ex ended it, or guilty that you did. Forgive yourself for feeling fear, shame, rejection, or loneliness. And, by all means, forgive yourself for feeling anger.
As for your ex: forgive them, too. The stupidity, meanness, lying, cheating… all of it. Otherwise all that stuff holds power over you. Consider the alternative: where anger creates stress, forgiveness creates calm. Anger demonstrates insecurity, but forgiveness demonstrates confidence. Most importantly, anger hurts the people who love you, and reduces your chances of finding new, meaningful connections. Forgiveness frees you to see where the love is.
Remember: you don’t have to forget any of the bad stuff. You just need to forgive it, so you can begin, as Stevie Wonder asks us, “to live in the positive.”
*Guilt leading to angry outbursts commonly increases feelings of guilt, contributing to a punishing negative feedback loop.